Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/725

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to four strings to a note in the treble; graduated with two and three unisons of so many notes each, between.

The allusions in Schroeter's letter to an 'ingenious man at Dresden' ('ein anderer sinnreicher Mann'), point to Gottfried Silbermann, who, in the second half of last century, was generally considered to be the inventor of the pianoforte. As late as 1780 De la Borde (Essai sur la Musique ancienne et moderne) said that 'The Clavecin Pianoforte was invented about twenty years ago at Freyberg in Saxony by M. Silbermann. From Saxony the invention penetrated to London, whence we obtain nearly all those that are sold in Paris.' It has been hitherto accepted in Germany and elsewhere that Silbermann adopted Schroeter's idea, and made it practicable; employing in fact Schroeter's action, with some improvement. Welcker von Gontershausen, 'Der Clavierbau' (Frankfort, 1 870), says, p. 171, 'the Silbermanns always used the action invented by Schroeter.' It is right however to warn the inquirer who may meet with Welcker's books, that they are not, either in text or engravings, always to be depended on.

We must now revert to the fact of Koenig's translation of Maffei's account of Cristofori's invention, published at Hamburg in 1725, an invention recorded and attributed exclusively to its author in Walther's 'Musikalisches Lexicon' (Leipzig, 1732). It was thus early made public in Germany, and we think we shall now be able to show that Gottfried Silbermann followed Cristofori rather than Schroeter when he began to make pianofortes. He is said to have made two as early as 1726 (the year after Matheson's publication of Koenig's translation) and to have shown them to J. S. Bach, who condemned them for the weakness of their trebles and their heavy touch. This adverse judgment so much annoyed Silbermann that for some years he made, or at least showed, no more. Some time after this he seems to have made an instrument for the Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, which Schroeter happened to see in 1753; but, before that, two had been made, admitted to be copies of it, by Lenker of Rudolstadt, and had met with great praise. We may therefore assume the success of the original. In connection with this it is not surprising that Frederick the Great (especially when we remember that he had C. P. E. Bach, who owned a most beautiful Silbermann clavichord, in his service) should have acquired and placed in the music-room in the Old Palace at Potsdam, a pianoforte by that maker [App. p.748 "concerning Frederick the Great's pianofortes see Silbermann, vol. iii. p. 494b. The examination of the one at the Neues Palais was made at the request of the writer, who had peculiar facilities for examining the pianofortes and harpsichords at Potsdam and Berlin accorded to him by H. I. H. the Crown Princess (since Empress) of Germany"]. He is indeed said to have had more,[1] but no musical anecdote is better known than the visit of J. S. Bach, and his eldest son, to Potsdam in 1747; his warm and almost unceremonious reception by the King, and the extempore performances which took place, in which we may be sure that the pianoforte would not be neglected. In 1773, our own Burney (Tour, ii. 145) published an account of his visit to the new palace at Potsdam. In His Majesty's concert-room there he saw a Silbermann pianoforte; in other rooms the Tschudi harpsichords of 1766. Thus the pianoforte had not yet prevailed over the harpsichord, these London instruments being of later date. But what is of supreme interest is that the same piano which Burney saw is still in Frederick's music-room (1880). True, the instrument bears no inscription or date, but since everything in the room remains as it was at the time of the King's death, there is no reason to doubt its genuineness; and it has the whole weight of local tradition in its favour. A recent examination, made through the kind permission of Count Seckendorff by Herr Bechstein, the well-known pianoforte-maker of Berlin, reveals the Cristofori action! There can be no doubt about it. Here is Herr Bechstein's drawing, and a comparison of it with that of Cristofori's action (Fig. 2) is at once convincing.

Fig. 4.

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  1. We quote from Forkel: 'The King … urged Bach (then known as the Old Bach) to try his Silbermann Fortepianos then standing in various rooms of the palace.' A footnote adds:—'The pianofortes of the Freyberg Silbermann pleased the King so much, that he made up his mind to buy them all. He got fifteen of them together. They must now (1802) be all standing about, of no use, in different corners of the palace.' Recent search has failed to discover these instruments. Fifteen was a large number for Silbermann to have made and had by him, and it must be remembered that Forkel wrote at secondhand, and long after the event, although we have the statement of an eye-witness, W. Friedemann. Bach's eldest son. Gerber's Lexicon, published 1792, art. 'Silbermann.' states that the King of Prussia had one pianoforte made for him, before Bach's visit, and this pleasing him he ordered others for Berlin. Hooser's 'Silbermann der Orgelbauer' (Strassburg 1857) affirms that they were six in number, and that one more was acquired after Silbermann's death. Burney saw only one at Potsdam, and that not five-and-twenty years after Bach's visit.